Words By Ambar Ramirez
When like-minded parents and citizens come together with the common goal of fostering independence and equality for individuals with intellectual and developmental differences (IDD), remarkable things can happen. One such result of this collaboration is The Arc Jacksonville, a nonprofit organization established in 1965 to assist and advocate for those facing daily challenges associated with IDD. Over the years, The Arc Jacksonville has positively impacted the lives of countless individuals and families through its support and services.
I had the pleasure of meeting with Lacey Rumberger, who serves as the director of development at The Arc Jacksonville Village. One standout aspect of The Arc Jacksonville is the presence of The Village, a unique community that distinguishes it from other IDD-focused organizations. While it may appear similar to other elevated neighborhoods from a distance, The Village is much more than that. Situated on Hodges Boulevard, this affordable and independent-living community was designed to promote community inclusion for adults with IDD.
During my visit, Rumberger took me on a tour of the neighborhood’s clubhouse, which serves as the central hub of the community and provides residents with a diverse array of services. Among the offerings are a fitness center, computer lab and a movie room, as well as a dining hall, arts and crafts room, and a charming cafe. One aspect of the cafe that particularly captured my attention was the opportunity for residents to volunteer and serve as baristas for a day. While the clubhouse services offer additional resources like transportation, mental health and physical therapists, this community is specifically designed to support independence, meaning that residents of The Village are encouraged to freely live their lives and not feel they are being held back by their differences.
Aside from The Village, The Arc Jacksonville offers other residential locations throughout the city for individuals or families with IDD, including five community homes that offer 24/7 care with onsite nutritionists, therapists and medical care, if needed. Regardless of which community an individual chooses, each place of residence is designed to offer independence, a sense of community and security.
“I think what makes The Arc Jacksonville so different from not just other nonprofit organizations but organizations that serve individuals with IDD is that we’re truly always innovating,” Rumberger shared. “And I think it’s really important to be always looking for new ways to serve the individuals that we do because the challenges that they’re facing are always changing.”
In addition to providing housing options for individuals with IDD, The Arc Jacksonville also offers various programs, including the on-campus transition (OCT) program at the University of North Florida. This program is tailored to meet the unique needs of each student or young adult with IDD and provides them with a complete college experience. Apart from the OCT, this nonprofit organization provides several other programs such as Strive which supports participants in achieving their individual goals, adult day training, mental health services and experiential services that enable individuals to acquire practical skills in a wide range of areas, including community and employment skills.
“I think The Arc Jacksonville is known … statewide and even, I would say, nationally … [as] being very innovative and not afraid to think [outside] of the box,” Kari Bates, president/CEO of The Arc Jacksonville. “So if you think about, you know, some of our programs like the on campus transition program that’s at the University of North Florida or The Village, those were programs that —at the time they were being created — really didn’t exist anywhere else, and that took board members’ leadership at the time; everyone really being open to taking risks and trying different things that felt like it just gave people more of a choice.”
As Bates and Rumberger highlighted, The Arc Jacksonville is at the forefront of being innovative and creative with their programs and services, important components for any nonprofit, but especially with a organization that deals with individuals with IDD. New information involving IDD and how it affects individuals is continually being discovered, mwaning new programs are constantly being created at The Arc to ensure they are setting up their participants with everything they need to succeed.
“Our tagline right now is ‘Answering what’s next,’” Bates explained. “So dementia, for example, presents very early in someone with Down Syndrome, and so we’re developing a program specifically for people at risk or already maybe diagnosed with dementia. So it’s constantly like answering what’s next.”
In addition to its extensive range of programs and services, The Arc Jacksonville’s innovative approach and emphasis on promoting independence among individuals with IDD make it even more special. Also, there are many ways for members of community to get involved in supporting The Arc Jacksonville’s mission and services. Local businesses, organizations, donors and volunteers are all welcome with open arms, the same way The ARC Jacksonville welcomes all of their residents and program participants.
For more information about the organization that is shifting the way we view and treat individuals with IDD, visit arcjacksonville.org.